‘It Is Good to Die for Our Country’

The Fellowship  |  August 12, 2020

Joseph Trumpeldor
Joseph Trumpeldor

Born to a Jewish family in the Russian Empire, Joseph Trumpeldor learned patriotism and heroism from his father. Wulf Trumpeldor, conscripted into the Russian Army during the Caucasian War and seen as a “useful Jew” by the anti-Semitic Russian Empire, raised his son to be brave. And, dropping out of dental school to fight in the Russo-Japanese War of 1904-1905, Joseph soon proved his bravery.

Russia’s Most Decorated Jewish Soldier

The Siege of Port Arthur, the bloodiest land battle of that now-forgotten war, cost Joseph his arm. The limb, hit by shrapnel, had to be amputated. After spending more than 100 days in the hospital, Joseph asked to continue his service. His superiors advised him against it, noting his handicap. “But I still have an arm to give,” came Trumpeldor’s reply.

Port Arthur fell soon after Trumpeldor rejoined his fellow soldiers, which left him a prisoner of the Japanese. In the prison camp, he not only published a Jewish newspaper for fellow prisoners, he also taught them history, literature, and geography. But most importantly, Joseph and some of his fellow prisoners began to discuss their desire to make aliyah (immigrate) to then Ottoman-ruled Palestine, the Holy Land.

After his release from captivity, Joseph Trumpeldor received numerous awards for his bravery, making him the most decorated Jewish soldier in Russia. But despite his loyalty to the land of his birth, Trumpeldor longed to live in the land of his people.

An Enemy in His Biblical Homeland

In 1911, he fulfilled that longing, making aliyah, working on a farm on the Sea of Galilee. When World War I broke out a few years later, Trumpeldor found himself a Russian in Ottoman territory – an enemy of the occupying Turks.

Fleeing to safety in Egypt, Trumpeldor and his friend Ze’ev Jabotinsky founded the Jewish Legion, the first all-Jewish fighting unit in 2,000 years and the precursor to the IDF. Serving with the Zion Mule Corps at the horrific Battle of Gallipoli, Trumpeldor received a wound to the shoulder of his remaining arm.

After WWI, Joseph returned to Russia. There, he taught his fellow Jews how to defend themselves, and formed an organization to prepare Jewish youth to make aliyah. Then Joseph Trumpeldor returned to the Holy Land…for the final time.

Giving His Life for the Holy Land

On March 1, 1920, hundreds of Shiites surrounded Tel Hai, one of only four farming Jewish villages at that time in the Upper Galilee. When the farmers there called for help, Trumpeldor arrived with 20 reinforcements. During the resulting firefight, Joseph receives gunshot wounds to the hand and the stomach.

As his comrades evacuated a wounded Joseph Trumpeldor after the battle, he reportedly said, “Never mind, it is good to die for our country” before succumbing to his wounds. To this day he stands as an Israeli national hero for those on both ends of the political spectrum, and inspires the brave men and women of the IDF, which Joseph Trumpeldor inspired, who risk their lives for the Holy Land.

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